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Thread: Age vs. Technology

  1. #1

    Default Age vs. Technology

    So I was once again lamenting the relationship between politicians and technology. The most out of touch and technologically illiterate members of our society have all the power to regulate and govern the technologies that they rarely understand. Technology has fundamentally shaped our society, and the rapid pace of progress has meant that the ground has been shifting constantly. There's a lot of opportunity for the government to leverage tech, but any thinking along those lines is just a pipe dream as long as the people in power still aren't sure why the internet is a big deal. Just looking at the political landscape, a lot of the policies being pushed are mired in old ways of thinking, assuming that everything that was true from the postwar era through about 1990 is still true and will be true forever.

    That lead me to wondering - it's generally known that old people and technology don't mix. But is that a feature of all old people, or just boomers and older? Millennials are characterized as having early exposure to technology and being more adept at it, and Gen Z was born into a society that already had widespread internet. Are those groups going to also lose technical literacy as they age, or have they been inoculated by the rapid progress they've experienced their whole lives? With political power shifting from the Boomers to Gen X over the next couple decades, should we expect them to become just as illiterate as they get older, or is there hope that politicians might be able to create policies for the world that we're in instead of the world that we had thirty years ago?

    What about me? Am I going lose the ability to keep up as I get older? Will I know if I do? Has it already started?

    It's impossible to get hard data to answer these questions since there aren't any Millenials in their twilight years yet, and no previous generation has experienced such rapid technological progress before. So I wanted to see if any of you had any thoughts on this. Is the correlation between age and technological illiteracy a feature of humanity, or just of previous generations?

  2. #2
    In terms of technology that affects people's day to day lives, I don't think any generation has seen as much change in such a short space of time as this one.

    One thing to consider is that with the digital revolution developed universal UI grammar which should make picking up any future technological innovations easier to pick up, but which boomers and GenX didn't get a chance to grow up with. We still use basic UI concepts for new tech like smart phones that were developed in the 80s with the first graphical operating systems. If you learned to use a computer on Windows 3.1, then went into a coma for 30 years you'd probably be able to pick up a smart phone UI or browse netflix without too much problem.

    It's not too much of stretch to imagine that a Space Battlecruiser from the Year 3000 will use similar ideas (windows, icons, etc) on it's computer terminals.

    Another possibility is that pace of technological innovation (in terms of day to day consumer technologies, not stuff like space flight or fusion power) will not actually continue exponentially into the future.
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  3. #3
    Just a quick observation: I know a large number of millennials (my peers) and gen Z (my siblings and their peers) who do not have particularly great tech proficiency despite having used internet, smartphones, etc for most of their lives. By this I mean that, while using tech may come naturally to them, they do not naturally look for and identify tech solutions to their needs, and they are not particularly adept at troubleshooting in situations when tech breaks down - they're inclined to replace products or just seek out professional help. In this respect, my mother - who has always insisted that she's tech-illiterate - is more proficient than many members of gen Z, in that she can often troubleshoot software and hardware issues, and is often good at finding modern technological tools that serve her needs. I think that the increasing pervasiveness of tech may have increased the proportion of people comfortable with using a succession of ever-newer advanced technological products in creative and productive ways, but that, for many younger people, the basic relationship with tech hasn't become much more sophisticated than it was in previous generations - and may in fact have become less sophisticated, due to the tech-as-appliance paradigm (basic proficiency notwithstanding - compare with people learning to drive). Tech remains a special interest in many ways, and, although you may now have more people who can develop that special interest, you still have a large number of people who just aren't drawn to it in the same way as your typical nerd might be.
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  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Steely Glint View Post
    One thing to consider is that with the digital revolution developed universal UI grammar which should make picking up any future technological innovations easier to pick up, but which boomers and GenX didn't get a chance to grow up with. We still use basic UI concepts for new tech like smart phones that were developed in the 80s with the first graphical operating systems. If you learned to use a computer on Windows 3.1, then went into a coma for 30 years you'd probably be able to pick up a smart phone UI or browse netflix without too much problem.
    That'd be the hope, but like you said, a lot of the UI grammar has been around since 80's, when Boomers were in their prime, but they still can't use tech effectively. That also only helps with personal use - Facebook is hardly complicated, but the Senate's Facebook hearings demonstrated that most senators have no understanding of how it's used or how it's impacted society.

    Also, I'd disagree that smart phones would be intuitive to a time traveler from the Windows 3.1 era. Smart phones didn't come along until after an entirely new gesture-based UI grammar was invented and had been in use for nearly a decade. They might figure out eventually that a tap is the equivalent of a double-click, but they're probably not going to guess about pinching, swiping, or holding. It seems intuitive to us now because that's been part of the grammar for so long, and we were around through all the steps of its invention. Someone without that experience is going to be lost.

    IIRC there was a study a year or two ago that showed that almost half of Boomers still only use landlines for calls, and that number grew to more than 2/3rds after age 70. The average age for a Senator right now is 61.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Wraith View Post
    So I wanted to see if any of you had any thoughts on this. Is the correlation between age and technological illiteracy a feature of humanity, or just of previous generations?
    Do you not have kids?

    My experience has been technology is marching on, and I'm slowing down. When I first started work, still a student in a coop job, I was the smartest person in the room - technology wise. The people I worked with had never seen a spreadsheet. As generation after generation of new communication and data management software gets rolled out in the workplace, it takes me longer and longer to figure it out.

    And the kids? They do circles around me.

    In 20 years I'll be as backward as your average boomer, I'm sure of that. And some time after that I'll die.
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  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Aimless View Post
    ...while using tech may come naturally to them, they do not naturally look for and identify tech solutions to their needs, and they are not particularly adept at troubleshooting in situations when tech breaks down - they're inclined to replace products or just seek out professional help...
    I see this with my kids -- I often problem solve pretty basic shit for them. I assumed it's because they're lazy assholes, not that they couldn't figure it out for themselves if I wasn't around.

    BTW - my first PC was a Commodore 64 I got when I was 12... Windows 3.1 and a mouse was flipping awesome.

    EDIT: and I agree with DW, a smart phone is a long way from windows 3.1. Remember Windows 8? They tried to implement a more tablet like operating system with the general public and everyone was like what the fuck? I had a hell of a time finding my way around in that P.O.S.
    The Rules
    Copper- behave toward others to elicit treatment you would like (the manipulative rule)
    Gold- treat others how you would like them to treat you (the self regard rule)
    Platinum - treat others the way they would like to be treated (the PC rule)

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Wraith View Post
    That also only helps with personal use - Facebook is hardly complicated, but the Senate's Facebook hearings demonstrated that most senators have no understanding of how it's used or how it's impacted society.
    There are millennial researchers and journalists working full-time on trying to understand how FB has impacted--and is impacting--society.

    IIRC there was a study a year or two ago that showed that almost half of Boomers still only use landlines for calls, and that number grew to more than 2/3rds after age 70. The average age for a Senator right now is 61.
    To be fair, the average Senator is probably not the average boomer.
    “Humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity.”
    — Bill Gates

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by EyeKhan View Post
    Do you not have kids?
    He has us
    “Humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity.”
    — Bill Gates

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Aimless View Post
    Just a quick observation: I know a large number of millennials (my peers) and gen Z (my siblings and their peers) who do not have particularly great tech proficiency despite having used internet, smartphones, etc for most of their lives. By this I mean that, while using tech may come naturally to them, they do not naturally look for and identify tech solutions to their needs, and they are not particularly adept at troubleshooting in situations when tech breaks down - they're inclined to replace products or just seek out professional help. In this respect, my mother - who has always insisted that she's tech-illiterate - is more proficient than many members of gen Z, in that she can often troubleshoot software and hardware issues, and is often good at finding modern technological tools that serve her needs. I think that the increasing pervasiveness of tech may have increased the proportion of people comfortable with using a succession of ever-newer advanced technological products in creative and productive ways, but that, for many younger people, the basic relationship with tech hasn't become much more sophisticated than it was in previous generations - and may in fact have become less sophisticated, due to the tech-as-appliance paradigm (basic proficiency notwithstanding - compare with people learning to drive). Tech remains a special interest in many ways, and, although you may now have more people who can develop that special interest, you still have a large number of people who just aren't drawn to it in the same way as your typical nerd might be.
    I'm speaking broadly, so there's always going to be exceptions.

    I'm not necessarily talking about understanding the fundamentals of how everything works, because most of Gen Z & Millenials don't have that. But if you hand a Gen Z'er some new tech, usually all they need is a quick demo of one or two basic scenarios, and then they can usually integrate it into their lives and figure out the advanced scenarios through exploration, mostly on their own. Failing that, they're still better at picking up on new ways to use things from the people around them through osmosis. That's not a feature of older generations, who tend to need to have their hands held through the entire process, and typically struggle to find any new use or feature without explicit instruction and demonstration.

    I observe a lot of usability tests as part of my job, and I see this all the time. Older folks can generally succeed at a task if you told them how to do it before hand, but frequently fail if you ask them to do a task with sometimes surprisingly small differences to what they've already done. There's a strong correlation in these studies between age and how quickly they can figure out how to do something new but similar to what they've done before.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by EyeKhan View Post
    Do you not have kids?
    Most of my bot swarm is under 3 years old. Does that count?

    Quote Originally Posted by Aimless View Post
    There are millennial researchers and journalists working full-time on trying to understand how FB has impacted--and is impacting--society.
    Maybe at a very fine and highly detailed level, but I think everyone gets the basics. The exchanges between the Senate and Zuckerberg in those hearings demonstrated fundamental misunderstandings about how Facebook and the internet and computers work. Watching Zuckerberg try to explain how Facebook made money (ads) was grueling. Not a good sign for the people charged with governing those things.

    To be fair, the average Senator is probably not the average boomer.
    Granted. They might have a higher average intelligence, but they're also more insulated, and seem to be less aware of their own limitations.

  11. #11
    This is my job! Like literally what I'm being paid to do right now. Creating programming that can reach three camps; the old farts, the 30 somethings changing or finally finding a career, and the kids.

    What has thus far been described as an age difference is actually a difference in learning, or how to process information.

    It comes down to how education has changed over the years. Moving from route memorization to "programming." Teaching kids how to critically approach everything and how to think like a programmer. When it comes to technology, its no longer being addressed as "this is how its done" but in a "what is expected of me for X to happen".

    To really break it down, you can ask each of the above she group the steps for how to make a PB&J. The directions they give will be vastly different based on how they were taught, which largely coincides with age. Bonus points if you do it as a live demo, the older groups get really annoyed, really fast, because they make a lot of jumps in logic that they see as common sense, but wouldn't fly if one was trying to program a robot. For example, when they say put the peanut butter on the bread, they did not mean to roll the closed jar on the loaf, and they dont "get" why you even attempted such a thing.


    I usually close out my technology classes with a remark about how I gave everyone enough information to be dangerous, so please go home and see what you can break, and come back next week with those questions. Its a way to let the older folks know that its ok to fumble around in the program they are trying to learn.
    Last edited by Ominous Gamer; 10-10-2019 at 10:12 PM.
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  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Ominous Gamer View Post
    What has thus far been described as an age difference is actually a difference in learning, or processing information.
    This is true, but I think the important factor here is going to be adaptability. Steely suggested that tech might not keep changing so rapidly, and that might be true, but I'm certain that it's not going to stop any time soon. There's too many game-breakingly powerful technologies either on the horizon or already here and just waiting for adoption. Shit's going to keep changing, and just because younger generations are good at learning today's tech doesn't mean they'll be equally good at learning tomorrow's tech. I think everyone here has lived through a few paradigm shifts already, and we should expect them to keep coming, at least for a while.

    Steely brought up UI grammars earlier, and even those are in a constant state of evolution. If age has a causative effect here, then over time I should expect to gradually lose my ability to keep up. On the other hand, maybe adaptability is a learned skill and I'll be able to keep riding the bleeding edge of tech right up until the day I die. Probably during the robot uprising.

  13. #13
    UIs have changed a great deal from 3.1 or even 95 to windows 10, Android, and apple. For us it's done in baby steps, but for kids it's a whole other ball game. Just cause a kid knows how to switch screens on mobile doesn't mean they can on a desktop and a vast majority of them have no idea why the save icon looks like it does.

    AR/VR has the possibility of putting us in the same position as our parents concerning interactions with UI, what with so much of it being motion based. But I do think that, at least to a degree, adaptability is a learned trait.

    That's if all that brainwave controlled stuff doesn't take off.
    Last edited by Ominous Gamer; 10-11-2019 at 01:41 AM.
    "In a field where an overlooked bug could cost millions, you want people who will speak their minds, even if they’re sometimes obnoxious about it."

  14. #14
    We'll probably see brainwave & subvocalization UI take off eventually, but right now they're nowhere near ready for market. Neuralink might surprise me though, Musk's companies can usually get solid products on the market much faster than most estimates, even if they're still slower than Musk's estimates.

  15. #15
    I think OG has it right -- it's more about how education has changed over time. I'm in the old fart camp that sees education as a life-long learning process. A Liberal Arts degree actually meant something back in the day, because it taught *how* to think critically, and applying that to all sorts of environments and industries. The Philosophy major as head of HR, for example, was already a good "app" before its computer algorithm.

    Tech is an important tool, but it's not the end-all/be-all. A STEM-based cirriculum isn't automatically superior. In fact, it can be dangerous in the hands of people who haven't "learned" (been exposed to) important things like World History or Ethics. It only becomes an "Age" argument if modern Education fails to teach today's kids more than computer-driven "Tech" skills.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Wraith View Post
    IIRC there was a study a year or two ago that showed that almost half of Boomers still only use landlines for calls, and that number grew to more than 2/3rds after age 70. The average age for a Senator right now is 61.
    I don't disagree with your general point, but average boomers also have a really low education level, while your average senator has a JD and is pretty wealthy. A lot of their scientific illiteracy is a combination of willful ignorance and the dumbest senators being assigned to science committees (because they're not prestigious and not great for generating campaign contributions).
    Hope is the denial of reality

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Ominous Gamer View Post
    UIs have changed a great deal from 3.1 or even 95 to windows 10, Android, and apple. For us it's done in baby steps, but for kids it's a whole other ball game. Just cause a kid knows how to switch screens on mobile doesn't mean they can on a desktop and a vast majority of them have no idea why the save icon looks like it does.

    AR/VR has the possibility of putting us in the same position as our parents concerning interactions with UI, what with so much of it being motion based. But I do think that, at least to a degree, adaptability is a learned trait.
    It might be a learned trait but it is also a biologically limited one. We don't stop learning as we age but we do stop learning as well.

    edit: and apparently an earlier post I had got eaten by the internet. Grr.
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  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Wraith View Post
    IIRC there was a study a year or two ago that showed that almost half of Boomers still only use landlines for calls, and that number grew to more than 2/3rds after age 70. The average age for a Senator right now is 61.
    A better way to put this into context: why do political polls/surveys still use land line phones for a majority of their data?

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by LittleFuzzy View Post
    It might be a learned trait but it is also a biologically limited one. We don't stop learning as we age but we do stop learning as well.
    Airline pilots have mandatory retirement based on age. Slower response times, etc. But that doesn't apply to academic professors, or even SCOTUS judges, because "rapid adaptability" is a non-sequitur.

  20. #20
    Wraith, many "old people" live in expensive high rises with high-tech elevators and sophisticated security and medical systems, connected to their smart phones. But they're the "wealthy" old folks who can afford the latest tech. That's an important variable you should consider....if you want to "keep up" as you age. Being wealthy can tilt the odds in your favor.

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by GGT View Post
    A better way to put this into context: why do political polls/surveys still use land line phones for a majority of their data?
    Because it's illegal to cold call cellphones with an automatic dialer.

  22. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by Wraith View Post
    Because it's illegal to cold call cellphones with an automatic dialer.
    A. I get all kinds of flippin' cold calls on my cell. B. That's an interesting situation - do we know its a fact? I have to think restricting polls to land line users must skew the polls, depending on subject matter.
    The Rules
    Copper- behave toward others to elicit treatment you would like (the manipulative rule)
    Gold- treat others how you would like them to treat you (the self regard rule)
    Platinum - treat others the way they would like to be treated (the PC rule)

  23. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by EyeKhan View Post
    A. I get all kinds of flippin' cold calls on my cell. B. That's an interesting situation - do we know its a fact? I have to think restricting polls to land line users must skew the polls, depending on subject matter.
    Yeah, it's a fact. You can only call cell numbers if either you have a preexisting relationship with the person you're calling, or you have a human initiate the call. Most of the cold calls you and everyone else gets are illegal, and they're either being done by fly-by-night operations or, most commonly now, they actually originate outside the country where the FCC can't get them and they use spoofed numbers to make themselves look local. Occasionally some legit companies will do this right up until they call the wrong person's cellphone and that person takes them to court and drains their bank account. You can make serious bank suing cold callers if you can figure out who to sue, but that part can be tricky.

    It totally does skew the polls, and it gets more skewed every election cycle as landlines are increasingly only used by old people. It's already probably played a part in Trump's surprise 2016 victory since he had unusually high support from cord-cutter demographics. As an example from this primary, Andrew Yang is at about 4% in telephone polls, but in on-the-ground polls he regularly gets double digits, and in a few polls at colleges he's been the frontrunner. He's "the internet's candidate" and all his popularity is among millenials. On the flip side, Biden polls at 30% on landlines, but can drop to single digits on the ground because all his support is from the elderly*. Of course, it's infeasible to get good geographically representative samples from street polling, so any of the big polls are going to be keep being focused on only talking to the people far enough behind the times to still have a landline. The alternatives are either illegal or too expensive.

    *If you're curious, Warren and Bernie don't see nearly as much variance between street vs phone polls. I haven't been paying attention to anyone else.
    Last edited by Wraith; 10-11-2019 at 03:58 PM. Reason: grammar

  24. #24
    Polls using cell phones show similar results to polls using landlines (which mostly account for the demographic differences in terms of who uses each). Here's a recent cell phone poll: https://www.monmouth.edu/polling-ins...oll_us_100219/

    Any poll showing Yang with double-digit support or Biden with less than 20% is seriously flawed.
    Hope is the denial of reality

  25. #25
    Street polls are inherently flawed due to geographic and activity biases. But that doesn't mean you can't learn anything from them. Most national polls use landlines which has a technological bias, and any type of phone poll has a bias against the tech savvy, excluding people who don't pick up unsolicited calls from unknown numbers.

  26. #26
    When a cell phone poll shows Yang at 2%, you'd need Yang to be polling at well over 100% among the tech-savvy for his real support to be 10%, let alone 20%.

    Never heard of street polls. Do they have another name?
    Hope is the denial of reality

  27. #27
    On the ground polls? There's probably another name that I can't think of right now. It's people conducting polls in person, the same type of polling done by high school and college students as class assignments. They're never going to generate representative samples, so they're not used very seriously. I don't think any of the ones I've seen have been door-to-door, but I also haven't been checking carefully.

    To be clear, I do not believe Yang has double digit support among the general population, nor does Biden have sub-20% support. I was just using those to show how the polls can swing the other way when the groups that are underrepresented in standard polls become overrepresented instead. The real variation between polling numbers and real support is probably just a few points, but for candidates like Yang and Biden, you can know which direction those few points go, even if you can't know the real magnitude.

  28. #28
    That kind of a poll, assuming it was carried out properly, would tell us nothing more than a candidate's approval in that geographic area. You'd need dozens of such polls before you could ever try to generalize. And if they're all taking place on college campuses, there's no way to generalize the results to the general population.

    Yes, there are problems with landline polls. But pollsters are aware of those problems and make reasonable adjustments. For all the criticisms of the 2016 polls, a poll of polls was only off by 1%.
    Hope is the denial of reality

  29. #29
    You're saying nothing that I'm not agreeing with, but I will point out that we should be expecting the polls to be more skewed over time. Phone polls are still the most accurate we can get, but until a better way to get polling data is found, the size of the underrepresented groups is going to keep growing.

  30. #30
    I'm guessing that what we'll see is a larger variation in poll numbers (as each polling agency applies its own solution), but not necessarily problems with polling averages.
    Hope is the denial of reality

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